Erected in the 1570s to a design of Francisco Becerra, the Spanish architect who designed Puebla Cathedral, the rugged, twin-towered church was built to last. Despite several earthquakes, the powerful stone buttresses and the massive, rounded apse have sustained the structure through more than 400 years.
The Convento Murals
Unfortunately, despite its importance, no major mural programs have survived at Cuauhtinchán. However, a few fragments of distinctive frescoes do survive in the convento precincts.
We focus on three of these, each of which takes the form of a pictorial frieze above a cloister doorway:
The most celebrated mural at Cuautinchán presents a unique combination of Christian and pre Hispanic imagery, believed to date from the later 1500s.
A small, largely monochrome portrayal of the Annunciation at the center, adapted from a late medieval print or engraving, is flanked by finely detailed and colored eagle and jaguar figures rendered in pre- hispanic "codex" style.
Both were important symbolic creatures in Aztec life and cosmology, representing the opposing forces of light and darkness. The portrayal of an eagle may also relate to the ancient place name of Cuautinchan, signifying House of the Eagles.
-------The second frieze shows a pair of angels with medieval style fluttering robes holding up a medallion that encloses a scrolled, floral motif painted turquoise with red blossoms.
An inscription around the medallion quotes Ecclesiasticus Ch 6: “you may be in peace with many, nevertheless have but one counselor among a thousand. “
The angels are flanked in turn by expressive but awkwardly drawn roaring or speaking lions with thick curling manes. Unlike the eagle and jaguar portrayals, the indigenous artist clearly had never seen a lion!
The third above doorway mural shows three Calvary crosses, the center one mounted above a skull and bones and adorned with the Arma Cristi—nails, a crown of thorns, a lance and hyssop/sponge.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.